Grafite: Everything came together
Since his early days as a prolific goalscorer at amateur level in Campo Limpo Paulista, in the Sao Paulo metropolitan region, Edinaldo Batista Libanio, or Grafite as he is better known, has never stopped fighting to reach the very top. His big break to shine in the Brazilian top flight came with Goias, the powerful forward taking the opportunity with both hands and earning a place in the division's Best XI for 2003. A move to Sao Paulo followed, with his outstanding performances for O Tricolor Paulista in 2005 earning him a call-up to the Brazilian national squad.
Disaster struck, however, in the shape of a knee injury which required surgery, slamming the brakes hard on his burgeoning career. Once back to full fitness, Grafite did enough to catch the eye of Ligue 1 outfit Le Mans, where he spent one-and-a-half campaigns before a big-money switch to ambitious German side Wolfsburg in the summer of 2007. The move could barely have gone better, with the striker top-scoring with 28 goals in 2008/09 to help the Wolves to their first-ever Bundesliga title. Fresh from that success, Grafite told FIFA.com the secrets behind his speedy adaptation to German football and his determination to return to the Seleção set-up.
FIFA.com: Grafite, which factors helped you adapt so well and so quickly to life with Wolfsburg?
Grafite: Everything came together perfectly, better than I could have imagined. It's as if all of those who joined the club had all found the right path to follow. Wolfsburg's project was to reach the very top, but this was sooner than expected. In my case, I think that my experience has really helped: I'm 30 years old and have been in Europe for three seasons. It was an ideal blend.
How much did your time in France help shorten your settling-in period in Germany?
It was vital. When players leave Brazil to come to Europe, however big a star they were back home, they have to prove themselves again from scratch. I must admit that in my first few months [in France] I thought about going back to Brazil. But I'm very grateful to Le Mans: I think that the club and I helped each other mutually.
Wolfsburg captain Josue is also Brazilian; two of Werder Bremen's main men this season were Diego and Naldo; and the same can be said for Bayern Munich duo Ze Roberto and Lucio or Carlos Eduardo of Hoffenheim. Is now a good time to be a Brazilian in Germany?
Brazilian players have been rated really highly by German clubs for a few years now, and that's down to the success of players like Elber, Lucio and Ze Roberto, who left a legacy of professionalism. European teams often worry that Brazilian players will misbehave off the pitch, but I think that us guys here set a very good example. Sometimes people at the club say to me that I must be half-German because I'm always reliable and on time! That's how it has to be, because we already know we've got the talent (to succeed).
How does this season compare with the 2005 campaign, your most successful season at Sao Paulo?
It's hard to say. That was a very special year too, because I broke into the national squad. Perhaps this past season means more because I was actively involved in winning the (Bundesliga) title. In 2005 I had a knee operation which meant that I barely played in the side that won the Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup.
Do you think that injury lay-off stopped you gaining a foothold with the Seleção?
Yes, I think so. I think that I was in the running for a place in the squad for the 2006 World Cup. But football's like that: injuries are something we all have to live with.
Are you still hopeful of playing for your country again?
Well, I was until Dunga announced his Confederations Cup squad. I admit that I'd been hoping for a call-up and not seeing my name on the list made me sad, because I know I could have been involved. But you can't criticise the squad he's picked: the four forwards selected are excellent players.
Brazil don't have many physically powerful forwards like you. Does that help your cause?
I think so. In the current squad, the only one who plays more of a fixed role, based more on power, is Luis Fabiano. Whatever, I've just got to do my job well and leave it up to Dunga to decide.
Your style of play is quite different to when you caught the eye playing for Goias in 2003 or Sao Paulo in 2005. Back then you scored fewer goals, your game was more about putting in the hard graft.
No doubt about it. I've never scored so many goals in my career before. It's all to do with the team's formation, and who you play alongside. At Sao Paulo there was Luis Fabiano, a predator inside the box, whereas at Goias in the 2003 Brasileiro I played with Dimba, another typical No9. Edin Dzeko, on the other hand, is a very mobile player like me. It turns out we do a good job of sharing the goalscoring burden.
Is this the best forward partnership you've been part of?
I've had some spectacular strike partners like Luis Fabiano, Amoroso and Tulio Maravilha. But I think that the numbers speak for themselves: we're the highest-ever goalscoring duo in Bundesliga history. We're even ahead of Uli Hoeness and Gerd Muller, which is no mean feat. Dzeko reminds me of myself when I was younger: he has that desire to do whatever it takes to win the ball. I like that.
Was winning a title on European soil the final piece of your career jigsaw? Or is there still something you're still burning to achieve?
I think that being successful in Europe was huge, but I'd still like to win something with the national team. I think that's the only thing left before I can look back and say 'I achieved everything I possibly could'. I'll keep chasing that opportunity.
How about the 2010 FIFA World Cup™?
If only! In any case, if I don't get to go as a player I'll be going there for my holidays. Nothing beats the World Cup.